This Sunday, I did not get to take refuge out of town. I was preparing for a trip out of town later in the week. So, I ran errands.  I was suitably frazzled when I returned, and I retired early, knowing that Monday would start early and consist of a quadruple feature of challenges: car stuff, money stuff, bureaucracy and The Man.

I didn’t even get a chance to do a morning QiGong practice. Some days I get my exercise jumping hoops in an ongoing SSI case.

So, for contrast, today’s post explores a different jungle altogether: The unwielldy institution, the lattice of concrete and paper, built less upon the survival of the fittest,more on the Peter Principle.

On September 13, a letter came from SSA saying that they had not received the tax forms they needed from me; and if they didn’t not get them by today, 9/24, my pending application would be denied.

Of course, I remembered quite clearly having gone to my storage unit, extracted those records, brought them to Santa Fe (where I could photo copy them all), and then having packaged up a meaty stack of various documents and forms and sent it off at the post office. So, I began my near daily phone calls, trying to determine whether the forms were actually missing or just overlooked, and whom I must speak to for the answer. I reached many folks, most of them competent, some even concerned. One eventually did extra homework and deduced 1) that it was a certain Ms. K. C., who had sent the letter, and 2) what it was she was trying to learn from them.  But no one could be sure if the forms were actually in my file or not. One fellow reported they were, but it wasn’t clear.

Somewhere in the course of these days, averaging more that one call per day, a faint memory surfaced and strengthened. It was from the inquiries I made around the time I first assembled the parcel of documents and information to send in. It was one of the handful of representatives I spoke to then, telling me that she “guaranteed” that she/they “did not need” my tax forms.  As the memory took substance, my heart sank and my center gripped. Had I not sent them after all?!…Even though I have learned to take cautiously anything these people say, knowing from experience that, if I call and reach another, the assertion of the first is likely to be contradicted by the second.

As the deadline crept closer, I learned that Ms K.C. was out of the office a few days, until Thursday 20th, and that I had no recourse but to call her then. On that day, I called and reached another agent, who basically said that K.C. was busy, but that K.C. had communicated that she would not extend my deadline for getting the forms in by the following Monday.  The agent advised me to take them into SSA office in Santa Fe and have someone there scan them into the system.

Monday came, and after taking my vehicle to the repair shop early, I took my documents, in a borrowed car, to the local bureau and sat studying the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic in a well-populated waiting room while the 25 or so people ahead of me were served.

My fellow waiting citizens were quiet and good-natured. It was diverting to watch their faces as each entered, sized up the crowd in the waiting room and what the system was for being served, their eyes finally finding the “register here and take a number” machine on the opposite wall, or turning to the security guard for guidance. When he was at his post, he seemed a very congenial, even compassionate fellow, well suited to his tedious charge.

Everybody there had a story; it was a room full of beautifully burdened and unique doing the best I cans. My blurred memory would not allow me to sketch many here. But I do remember the token black man, mostly because he had a bright white t-shirt on that said something like,  “It isn’t luck, I’m Irish,” in large green lettering. He pulled a petite grey dog along behind him on a fleece blanket. This melted the room and made his emboldened eccentricities more amiable.

At last number 315 was called, and I went to the window of a Mr. L. Castro and explained what I needed. Because I had double-sided copies of my forms, he had to fax all thirteen sheets twice. He gave me back my papers, I thanked him multiply and earnestly, and I went outside to call SSA AlbQ, to report the accomplishment and to ask them to be on the look out for the papers and call me to confirm receipt.

I got a less motivated employee on the line this time.  Unable to locate the documents easily, she gave me K.C.’s voicemail. I left a message that I regretted was far too long, and I hoped for the best. I then headed off to deliver some other documents to Human Services.  Once there, I found myself unduly anxious that these would not get received properly. The woman did her best to reassure me.

As I left the building, I received three calls in quick succession, each diverting the next to voicemail. Among them was a phone message from an SSA employee in Raleigh, North Carolina, who had just received the 28 page fax from Santa Fe.  She had done due diligence and looked up my name, found only closed cases, but called the number on my file. “Had I never had a case in North Carolina? Why had my fax come to them?” she wondered. Who wouldn’t?

I confess,  I began to cry, as my exertions had taken me from the ridiculous to the absurd. I explained that the documents had been meant for the Albuquerque office only 60 miles south of me.   She said she would find the number and call them and get the right fax number. Her name was Jenethra or Geneva. And I send beams of appreciation her way.

Meanwhile, I had two other voicemails. One announced that my van was ready for pick up. The other was a return call from one of the many representatives I had spoken to in the days since receiving the Ms. K.C.’s letter. This woman had also been doing her homework. She reported that my tax forms were there.

I called SSA AlbQ again, and talked to Dolores, who was also solicitous, and, hearing about the diversion of my forms to North Carolina, said she would call Jenethra and give her the right fax number. I didn’t get a chance to even mention the new input: that the forms might already be there.

Jenetrha called later to say she’d gotten a fax confirmation, and that she hoped they had truly arrived. So do I.  But I admit I was had been so exercised by the morning, I no longer had the steam to care.




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